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May 6, 2014 2:14 PM by Rachel Cole - rcole@kristv.com

'Kissing Bugs' Spreading Infections Across South Texas

KINGSVILLE - An insect commonly found in South Texas may be more of a threat than first thought. A new study from the University of Texas says that "Chagas Disease" - a tropical parasitic infection spread by so-called "Kissing Bugs" - may be more widespread here in the Coastal Bend.

"Think about when you get a mosquito bite and it swells up but this one is going to be a lot bigger," one researcher said.

A triatomine bug also known as a "Kissing Bug" plays host to a deadly parasite.

"In about 30 percent of people that are infected they'll go on to develop cardiomyopathy which if left untreated can cause heart failure and it can kill you," researchers said.

Before people can protect themselves against Chagas Disease, they first have to know of its existence.

"The whole idea here is to raise awareness about chagas and how it affects not just bird dogs which it does, it kills them off, deadly but humans. People are dying today of chagas and we don't even know it," Dr. Fred Bryant said.

Thanks to a recent mandate, doctors now have to report the infections to the health department. That way they can track treatment.

Dr. Bryant says people can take precautions around their homes to ward off the bugs. The insects can typically be found in cracks, brush, and wood piles.

"There is a way hopefully that people will do preventative maintenance around their homes or especially their dog kennels right now," Dr. Bryant said.

While he adds, it's no time to panic, it is time to become knowledgeable and to be careful.

It's estimated that 8 million people, mostly in Mexico, Central America and South America have Chagas Disease.

In the early stage, there may be no symptoms. If there are, they are mild and may include fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches or swelling at the site of the bite. After eight to 12 weeks, the chronic phase begins.

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